Unless you’ve been hiding out with the cicadas, you can’t help but be aware that the weather this winter has been extreme. The West Coast is undergoing an epic drought. The East Coast has more snow than anyone could possibly use. As for the rest of the country, they’ve got tornadoes and storms all over the place. Chalking this up to climate change is more than reasonable, but it seems there is a more specific cause to at least some of these events.
Nick Bond, a climate scientist at the UW-based Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean, discovered an anomaly that he refers to as the blob. He first noticed the blob in 2013/2014. It’s an area of water that is 1,000 miles in each direction and 300 feet deep, located offshore from Mexico up through Alaska. The water in this blob is warmer by nearly 4 degrees Fahrenheit than usual.
The result of this warm water is a high-pressure front that is hanging off the US Pacific coast. It’s caused calmer seas with less agitation in the water. And so, there is less of a cooling effect due to the churning of the water. It’s not that the water is warmer. It’s that the water is not cooling.
Ocean water that doesn’t cool is a big problem. It leads to a host of related issues for habitats and species that depend upon the cooler ocean temps. It also changes the weather along the coast. In this case, causing less snowfall that then underwent less melting in the spring.
All of this has put El Niño in second place for weather-causing considerations. The question now, UW professor of atmospheric sciences Dennis Hartmann says, is “It’s an interesting question if that’s just natural variability happening or if there’s something changing about how the Pacific Ocean decadal variability behaves. I don’t think we know the answer…”
Let’s hope when we do discover the answer, it’s an answer we can all live with.
Featured image courtesy of NOAA